Oh, exercise. We have such a funny relationship with it here in the US. We put out national guidelines for a minimum amount of it yet our standard workplaces are completely sedentary. We feature celebrities’ fitness routines in magazines yet we release studies that show that it is not nearly as important as diet in reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. The whole thing is confusing and daunting and enough to make anyone wanna give up on all this crap and just go back to bed.
I am not a fitness professional in any way. But I have been exercising at least 4 days per week for many, many years with very little self-forcing and I love it. I’m someone who did not play a single sport other than Track & Field with the Nintendo Powerpad for my entire childhood, I hated gym class, I naturally move at a bit of a turtle-ish pace; and yet I have developed this habit, so I’m sharing this for all of you who have tendencies like me but don’t want that to stop you from getting in shape.
I originally drafted this post for around the New Year because I know that’s the time of year that so many people swear that THIS is the year they will become hardcore fitness machines. But I feel that the beginning of spring lends itself much better to that kind of change, where so much of life is it’s beginning anew, days are longer and we’re feeling more energetic. Not in January, when the calendar says that we’re beginning anew but our bodies say that anything beyond remembering to write ‘2012’ instead of ‘2011’ is just too damn much.
Read on, and before you know it, you will become one of those really annoying people that says things like, “You’ll never regret a workout!” and “Exercising is as much a part of my day as brushing my teeth.” All your friends will roll their eyes behind your back, but you will feel great.
Carve out the Time in Your Day First
I’m going to tell you something that is going to make the ‘Get thin quick’ devils on your shoulder go ballistic and say, I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS SHIT! I’VE GOTTA BE BIKINI READY ASAP! and make the ‘Be healthy for life’ angels on your shoulders sing their little hearts out.
If you are not in the habit of making any time at all in your life for exercise, I suggest that you initially start taking 30-45 minutes walks outside for four days a week, or however many days per week it’s your goal to exercise. It doesn’t even have to be a power walk. The idea is not to tone your tush or anything like that, though you might find that with all the extra endorphins you rile up by moving your body that emotional eating is easier to tame. Instead, the goal is to get yourself moving and get used to the fact that this is a non-negotiable part of your week; and to do it in a way that you can’t weasel your way out of.
If, instead, you tried to make it four days a week of Booty Boot Camp or Spinning or Bikram Yoga or something that is legitimately tiring, it is just too easy to back out of it. You will actually be exhausted and your body will ask for a well-deserved break, because that is a giant adjustment for someone who isn’t a regular exerciser. By the time your thighs stop screaming in pain every time you sit down, it’s been days since you’ve exercised, and you’re no closer to developing the habits you’d like to.
Some of us have a real mental block to exercise, and even a leisurely walk feels impossible because we’ve been thinking of ourselves as couch potatoes for so long. If that’s the case, don’t worry about it, just dial it back a touch and begin by devoting that same chunk of time per day to some kind of self-care activity. Read inspirational books, meditate, take a bath, write in a journal, do whatever, it just has to be something that is nurturing to you and you have to really devote the full block of time to it. Once it’s fully sunken into your little noggin that this chunk of time is YOU time, slowly work in a walk or two a week, until you’ve gotten up to all walking.
Once this has become a natural part of your day, you’ll be ready to gear up to moving your body in more challenging ways, which brings me to my next point.
Know Yourself and Don’t Do Anything that Makes You Wanna Puke
Some bodies were just not meant to run marathons. Just because some lady on TV with a hot bod swears by Cardio Strip Tease (which I did once back in 2004 and found myself practically unable to move throughout the entire class, I guess for me feeling like a total douche causes temporary paralysis) doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Can I just tell you that I frickin hate Pilates?! Honestly, I despise it. My sister loves it yet thinks yoga is ridiculous, and I adore yoga.
When it comes to choosing the right exercise method for you, I very highly recommend that you adopt my 2012 philosophy of, “It’s not me, It’s you.” and honor your preferences and what your body asks for. If a type of exercise makes you feel fucking miserable, that’s not your exercise. See how easy that is?
Now, there is a difference between “This makes me feel fucking miserable.” and “This is uncomfortable but something inside me telling me to go for this challenge because it’s so worth it!” You’re the only one who can judge that for you, no trainer or blogger or crazy bitch in a gym class can. Deep down, you know how to tell laziness from THIS IS JUST NOT RIGHT. Listen to that wisdom!
If you don’t have a blessed clue what you like, that’s a perfectly good place to start! Now that you’ve developed your walking habit and have adjusted to setting aside the time in your day to move your body, be a researcher and start playing around with different types of exercise to see what makes you tick. With the internet, fear of judgment by strangers for being a newbie is a non-issue, as is lack of options. I mean, there’s even a Hula Hoop workout!
As you learn about what works and doesn’t for you, keep in mind that certain exercises will feel different to you depending upon your environment and the manner in which you do them. For example, I absolutely detest treadmill running with every fiber of my being, but I like running outside. And I only discovered I loved running outside once I took a New York Road Runners beginners running class where I built up to running three miles in a group, which was way easier than doing it alone. Though I know I just told you that I love yoga, I have learned that I feel that any class called “Power Yoga” kind of blows. See what I mean?
Exercise took on a whole new meaning for me once I learned to work with my body and not against it. What’s a good sign that you’re working against your body? If you continually can’t follow through with what you set out to do, it might be time to readjust your goals. Some of the ways I’ve learned to readjust is by exercising only four days a week (I used to always shoot for five and nearly always fell short. Do you know how much better four days a week feels when it’s what you’ve set out to do rather than what you fell short with?) and always, always, ALWAYS taking off the weeks of Christmas and my birthday from exercise, no matter what.
I also don’t really sweat it if something happens that keeps me out of the gym for a week or so. Last year some lady on the subway sliced my toe open with her shopping cart from hell and I couldn’t work out for weeks. Once it was time for me to get back into it, I took it nice and slow, and that first week back I barely broke a sweat just going on the elliptical and listening to Lady GaGa. I knew if I just got back in the habit of devoting the time to working out that before I knew it, I’d soon be running and lifting and yoga-ing once again.
When your overall habits support taking the time to exercise, you’re working out in ways that you enjoy, and you’re not wasting valuable energy beating yourself up; getting back on the exercise horse when you have to take a break is no big deal.
The beauty of not forcing this shit and really, truly listening to yourself is that many times yourself WILL tell you to exercise. I’m a morning exerciser, and most days I have a little internal debate about whether or not to reset my alarm for an hour later and go back to sleep. One morning, after many many years of applying everything that I’m writing about here, I had a thought that has motivated me through many many dawn workouts: Whether I get up early now to work out or get up in an hour and get directly in the shower to get ready for work, both will involve a crusty and gross period upon rising. It’s not like that extra hour turns me all bright eyed and bushy tailed. So I might as well go exercise, because then by the time I get in the shower I’ll feel really good. Besides, I never regret a workout (Ew. Sorry).
I’m telling you this because I think a lot of women have this fear that if we really start listening to our bodies that our bodies will just want to pass out on a velvet couch hooked up to a Twinkie IV for all of eternity. That will not happen. Just like everyone else’s body, yours is very naturally and miraculously geared toward health and healing. It just might take a little while to cut through the bullshit and access that urge.
A Summary, to save you time so you can go do some squat thrusts
Practice giving yourself time to exercise before you go all gung ho with a crazy fitness routine in a convoluted quest for Madonna arms. Figure out what form of exercise you love and give the old heave-ho to anything that makes you want to cry. Be honest with yourself about what you can realistically do, and don’t sweat it if you have to take a break sometimes, okay?